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From Tamástslikt Cultural Institute to the Wild, Oregon's Indigenous Culture Is Alive

Tribal culture and heritage is reflected at a myriad of museums across Oregon, and alive in the state’s wilderness. Today nine tribes call Oregon home, but some 10,000 years ago, about 50 tribal nations roamed its land, from mountain peaks to foothills, waterfalls to hot mineral springs. “We love our country - it is composed of the bones of our people and we will not part with it,” states the Cayuse Delegation Treaty of 1855.

ICMN’s first installment in our Oregon travel series was dedicated to the funky City of Portland: “Discover Oregon’s Indian Country, Part 1: Portland, a Cultural Hub.” In Part 1, we highlight Bison Coffeehouse, TeePee’s food truck, and Cupcake Jones — all Native-owned and Portland-based (or nearby). Part 2 outlines An Indigenous, Gastronomic Experience, honing in on the abundant food of the state’s fertile valleys to coastal waters. Part 3 features attractions across Oregon’s iconic coast and magical forests, ancient tribal homeland.

In this final installment of our Oregon travel series, we emphasize visiting museums and cultural attractions, highlighting more epic hikes and swims.


Tamástslikt Cultural Institute

Tamástslikt, which fittingly translates to interpreter, houses the only museum on the Oregon Trail that tells the story of western expansionism from a tribal point of view. It’s situated on the grounds of Wildhorse Resort & Casino on the Umatilla Indian Reservation, just a 10-minute drive east of Pendleton. Its permanent exhibit at the Museum at Tamástslikt Cultural Institute examines the past, present and intended future of all three Confederated Tribes: the Cayuse, Umatilla, and Walla Walla. The final exhibit highlights the dreams and concerns of its tribal community in a moving exhibit called “We Will Be.”

Celilo: Progress Versus Protest,

Celilo: Progress Versus Protest

Beginning at the base of the Blue Mountains, the exhibit leads to the gallery showcasing local and regional art by tribal artists. The 45,000-square-foot facility also features a visitor services wing, complete with a museum store emphasizing local tribal arts and crafts, multi-use theater, and a café. Dine with a stunning view of the Blue Mountain foothills at Kinship Café, serving tribally inspired foods and tempting huckleberry pastries, as well as grab-and-go items.

The institute's outdoor Living Culture Village, Naami Nishaycht, meaning Our Home, is open for visitation from Memorial Day weekend through Labor Day weekend. (Free with museum admission.)

The current exhibit Celilo: Progress Versus Protest, running April 7 - July 14, covers the building of The Dalles Dam on the Columbia River in 1957 and the resulting submersion of Celilo Falls “done under the flag of progress.” Biologists, sport and commercial fishermen, congressmen, and citizens opposed and protested the dam. Almost 60 years later, American Indians are protesting yet another “progressive” project, the Dakota Access Pipeline. The exhibit asks, “Is history repeating itself?”

Tamástslikt Cultural Institute, 72789 Highway 331, Pendleton, Oregon, 97801, (541) 966-9748, Museum & Store: Mon-Sat: 10 a.m.-5 p.m. Every first Friday of every month, museum admission is free, and Indian tacos are made to order at Kinship Café for $7. Kinship Café: Mon-Sat: 11 a.m.-2 p.m.

Crow’s Shadow Institute of the Arts

Gabrielle Belz

Gabrielle Belz, a Maori painter and printmaker from Auckland, New Zealand, visited the Crow’s Shadow Press studio in June 2011.

Also situated at the base of the Blue Mountain foothills on the Umatilla Indian Reservation is Crow’s Shadow Institute of the Arts (CSIA), housed within the historic St. Andrews mission schoolhouse. The nonprofit organization — aimed at providing opportunities for Native Americans through artistic development — offers a gallery, an ever-growing portfolio of prints that encompass the work of many outstanding artists of diverse backgrounds and media. The nonprofit emphasises contemporary, fine-art printmaking, in addition to functioning as a venue to practice traditional Native American art practices of the Plateau region — weaving, bead working and regalia making. Renowned artist James Lavadour (Walla Walla) and friends incorporated CSIA in 1992, with the idea of using art as a transformative tool for Indian country.

Crow’s Shadow Institute of the Arts, 48004 St. Andrews Road, Pendleton, 97801, (541) 276-3954,; visiting hours: Mon.-Fri., 9 a.m.-5 p.m.

Indian Lake

Some 30-plus miles southeast of Pendleton, you’ll find the serene Indian Lake, operated by the Confederated Tribes of the Umatilla Indian Reservation. Lake Hiyúumptipin (which translates as "grizzly bear devouring") offers a relaxing atmosphere to camp, picnic, fish, and boat. At an elevation of 4,200 feet, the Indian Lake Recreation Area lies near the crest of the Blue Mountains.

The High Desert Museum

Heading east to Bend, Oregon, on the outskirts of Willamette National Forest, visitors to The High Desert Museum encounter native wildlife such as owls, otters, bobcats, porcupines and eagles. TripAdvisor reviews rank the museum the No. 1 thing to do in Bend.

Willamette National Forest

Broken Top Mountain

Hike the Three Sisters Wilderness within Willamette National Forest to Broken Top Mountain.

Due west of Bend, the Willamette National Forest covers 1.5 million acres in the Cascade Range, including eight wilderness areas. The popular Three Sisters Wilderness, among others, is ideal for backpacking and day hiking. The varied landscape offers high mountains, narrow canyons, cascading streams, and wooded slopes. The Three Sisters peaks earned their name because the trio of mountain tops are said to resemble women. Note that while the South Sister and Middle Sister are accessible climbs, summiting North Sister requires technical expertise and equipment.

Hike toward Broken Top Mountain, the extinct, glacially eroded stratovolcano, just southeast of the Three Sisters peaks. If you have a local guide, traverse to the apex of Broken Top Mountain via an unmarked trail, two to three miles each way.

The mineral hot springs are another major Willamette forest attraction. At McCredie Hot Springs, located near milepost 45 and Blue Pool Campground, various pools formed by bathers stagger along the side of Salt Creek, offering 130-degree water for therapeutic soaks.

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Multnomah Falls

Multnomah Falls.

It's a gentle walk to the bottom of Multnomah Falls.

Torrents of water tumble twice the height of Niagara Falls at Multnomah Falls, the most popular waterfall on the Oregon side of the Columbia River Gorge. The 620-foot-tall wonder is a convenient 30-minute drive outside of Portland. Segments of the movie Twilight were filmed here.

The Multnomah were a tribe of upper Chinook people who lived near the falls and Portland. According to tribal legend that explains the origin of the falls, the daughter of Chief Multnomah prayed to the Great Spirit, imploring how she could stop an epidemic of disease killing off her tribe. The Great Spirit told her to throw herself off the cliff. So, she sacrificed herself. When her father discovered her body the next day, he cried out to the Great Spirit to give him a sign that her sacrifice was not in vain. Suddenly, water began to fall from the top of the cliff, forming Multnomah Falls. According to Native lore, on certain days, you can see the daughter's face in the waterfall.

Columbia River Maritime Museum

On the northern end of the Columbia River, in Astoria, Barbey Maritime Center— formerly the Astoria Train Depot, built along the town’s waterfront more than a century ago — features Native artifacts. A classroom instructor, affiliated with the museum, Jim Bergeron, has dedicated his more than four decade career to learning to use the ancient tools. See and touch his hand-crafted masks and practical tools like a fishing spear made of alder and bone. “This tool was used in shallow water; you would spear the fish over the back and then the spear head disconnects, so you could play the fish with a long cord that is attached to the spear. A really a remarkable tool,” Bergeron told the Seattle Times. “There really aren’t many people around doing this anymore, so I hope my teaching changes that! These skills were here for thousands of years, so I think it’s important local history and a part of the Oregon story.”

Weather Forecast

Hot Springs Willamette National Forest

If you're lucky, you'll find a secluded pool to relax your muscles in the series of hot springs within Willamette National Forest.

When packing your suitcase, be prepared for Oregon’s erratic weather patterns. One moment you need sunglasses, the next a raincoat and umbrella. Fortunately, the summer tends to bring sunshine and cornflower blue skies. The gray clouds roll in come fall, and hover endlessly. Yet even through showers and darkness, Oregon’s natural beauty remains romantic and spellbinding. Oregonian foods partly owe their slow and delicious ripening to the cooler climate. Temperatures often fluctuate between 50-70 degrees Fahrenheit, though they regularly reach 80 or 90 degrees in summer (triple digits do occur), and temps drop into the 30s and 40s in the most bitter months of winter. Despite the state’s frequently turbulent skies, Oregon’s weather is fairly moderate.